Al-Qaeda suspected of kidnapping Frenchman in Niger



A Frenchman and his Algerian driver have reportedly been kidnapped in Niger, where al-Qaeda's North African branch is known to operate.

Security sources say armed men seized the pair in the lawless Sahara Desert, near the borders with Algeria and Mali.

The reported kidnapping has not been officially confirmed.

This week, four Saharan countries opened a military base to tackle al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has recently seized several Westerners.

A military source told Reuters news agency the latest kidnapping took place near Tiguidan Tessoun, which is equidistant from the borders with Algeria and Mali.

Demands

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb is believed to earn money from ransom payments for hostages, although this is never officially confirmed.

It has also demanded the release of some its militants in exchange for hostages.
In February, Mali freed four militants, sparking a row with Mauritania.

Mali's government denied accusations it was giving it to the militants' demands and said the men had served their time.

Last week, two Italians were freed in Mali after spending four months in captivity, but two Spaniards are still being held hostage.

Last year, al-Qaeda in North Africa killed a British hostage, Edwin Dyer.

The group emerged in early 2007, after a feared militant group, the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), aligned itself with Osama Bin Laden's international network.

It has waged a campaign of suicide bomb attacks and ambushes in Algeria, and in recent years has become more active in the Sahara, where governments struggle to impose their authority and gangs of smugglers, bandits and rebels operate alongside the militants.